Just days after convincingly defeating Arsenal, Manchester United head to Stamford Bridge as they brace themselves for yet another epic Barclays Premier League match with current the champions, Chelsea.
Sir Alex Ferguson is preparing United, who narrowly missed out on last year’s crown by a lonely point, for another six-pointer at a place where the Reds has not tasted the thrill of victory in their last eight attempts.
Like United, Chelsea, themselves, had a huge match last weekend against Tottenham, and the Blues were forced to come-from-behind to secure a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, which their under-fire manager, Carlo Ancelotti, claims to have turned around their season.
Last season, Chelsea took all six points from their two matches with United, but hopefully this season the Reds will not have to overcome some poor officiating decisions, which gifted the Blues two goals.
The west London club has only one win their last seven Premier League matches, which is not good enough for a relegation-threatened club, let alone one that is trying to retain their title.
At the beginning of November, the Blues had a commanding five point lead over a then-third place United, but a real change in fortune has seen the Reds overtake the Blues by three points – with a match in hand as well.
So with a potential six point lead, United has astonishingly outpaced Chelsea by 11 points, and overcame their far superior goal difference of +9 to lead by a single goal just in the last month and a half.
Chelsea is currently planted in fourth place in the Premier League standings on 31 points, a far cry from their first place position (40 points) at this same round of fixtures last season.
However, the Blues do have the same amount of wins as United – nine – but they have four losses compared to none for the Reds, which confounds Arsene Wenger’s ridiculous comments last week.
With the assistance of the now-departed Ray Wilkins, Ancelotti led Chelsea to a domestic double last season, capturing of both the Premier League and FA Cup trophies, but if he fails to get all three points from this match, he could very well the latest named added to the growing unemployment list.
Chelsea started the season in tremendous form by securing back-to-back 6-0 wins over West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic, and the Blues kept seven clean sheets in their first nine matches as well.
Even though, they still lead the Premier League with just 12 goals against – only four better than highly-criticized United defense – Chelsea has failed to stop their opponents from scoring only once in their last seven games.
Offensively, Chelsea has scored 31 goals, which is only good enough for third in the league, behind both United’s 36 and Arsenal’s 34.
Flourent Malouda and Didier Drogba, who has always been a thorn in United’s side, are Chelsea’s joint leading goal scorers with seven goals apiece.
Their recent dip is not down to their attack, though, and it is being blamed on the fact that they have not been healthy in their defense, but their shamed-captain, John Terry, will definitely anchor their suspect defense against United.
Another excuse as to why Chelsea has not played well lately, is because their midfield general, Frank Lampard, has been out injured, but he was able to get some precious minutes against Tottenham.
Ancelotti will more than likely partner Drogba with Nicolas Anelka in the Chelsea attack with Lampard, Michael Essien and either Ramires or John Obi Mikel in the center of the Blues’ midfield.
These Premier League powerhouses have already met up once this season – in the FA Community Shield – and it was United who triumphed deserved 3-1 victory.
Antonio Valencia, who is out until February with a broken leg, scored the game’s first goal to give United a narrow lead at halftime.
Summer signing, Javier Hernandez, scored his official goal on English soil, to give United a comfortable two goal cushion, but that was cut in half six minutes from time by Salomon Kalou.
However, Dimitar Berbatov scored a humdinger of a goal when he got in behind Jeffrey Bruma, and then cleverly chipped the ball over a stranded Henrique Hilario to give United the first piece of silverware of the infant season.
Since Chelsea does not have an out-and-out right winger, it will be imperative that either Ji-Sung Park or Nani keep their width on the left side of the United midfield to stretch them.
Unfortunately, Paul Scholes, who was the Man of the Match during the FA Community Shield, has been ruled out until the turn of the year with a groin injury.
Sir Alex went with his preferred 4-5-1 formation against Arsenal, but after he watched Tottenham pick Chelsea apart with a 4-4-2 formation, he should recall Berbatov for the match in favor of one of his industrious midfielders.
Over the last couple of years, it has been a rare for Manchester United pull one over Chelsea in London, especially at Stamford Bridge, but this time the Reds should have the upper hand and get all three vital Barclays Premier League points.
Out: A. Valencia (leg), O. Hargreaves (hamstring), P. Scholes (groin); Questionable: M. Owen (hamstring)
E. van der Sar; Rafael, R. Ferdinand, N. Vidic, P. Evra; Nani, Anderson, D. Fletcher, J. S. Park; W. Rooney, D. Berbatov
Chelsea 1 Manchester United 3